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Library of Congress Showcases Early Aerial Photos of America

Travel & Leisure

This month, the U.S. Library of Congress is showcasing aerial photos of the United States taken during the early 1900s.  The panoramic, black and white photographs from more than 100 years ago show what American cities looked like from above.

In 1893, photographer George R. Lawrence inherited a camera studio and launched his company with the motto, “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography is Our Specialty,” according to a Yahoo! news report.

In 1901, Lawrence – known as one of the early pioneers of photography – used creative approaches to his craft using a 50-pound camera.  He used the infant technology of flight to capture images from thousands of feet above ground.

Library of Congress Showcases Early Aerial Photos of America image San Francisco 1906 600x337

San Francisco, Calif. in 1906. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress

But he didn’t use primitive airplanes, which the Wright Brothers invented in 1903.  Instead, Lawrence used balloons after experimenting with tall wooden ladders and large kites to capture views from above.

This 1906 photo of Grant Park near Chicago shows a highway of railroad cars and tracks.  Additionally, this 1909 image of Idaho Falls, Idaho shows a flat, large uninhabited rural expanse which contrasts with today’s bustling town of nearly 60,000.

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“A near-death experience inspired Lawrence to move away from balloons,” according to Yahoo!’s Eric Pfeiffer.  “During one flight, the cage Lawrence was riding in tore free from the balloon, sending him falling to the ground hundreds of feet below. His life was saved when the cage’s fall was broken by telephone lines. Amazingly, Lawrence walked away from the incident unharmed.”

Lawrence’s creative experiments show that unique photos offer the prospects for business as well as legacy.  Modern photographers can generate income by selling or licensing images of exotic locales or vacation destinations, according to Lori Allen of Great Escape Publishing.

The Florida-based company helps photographers and traveling enthusiasts monetize their work by creating travel-related products such as copyright images, ebooks, and hotel reviews.  “In 2005 we created our first photography product and today photography is probably 70 percent of our business,” says Allen. “Our upcoming expedition in Istanbul, Turkey will be our 104th writing and photography workshop. We’ve been all over from cities in the U.S. to Europe, South America, China and Indonesia . . . . We focus mostly on photography and travel writing but we also talk about import/export, creating your own tours, travel videos and travel blogging, too.”

What are some of today’s images that will become timeless displays a hundred years from now?  Perhaps the notable ones will be the natural beauty of Yosemite Park in California or the Florida Everglades.

As urban cities become ever more populous and expand, the untouched landscapes of nature should evoke a sense of the glorious wonders of the past for future generations much like the largely uninhabited land of early America.

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